Latest release: Red Before Black (Metal Blade)Website: www.cannibalcorpse.net
Since the turn of the millennium, the zombie has seen a strong resurgence as a horror story staple. Shambling hordes of mouldering dead tearing apart and feasting on living human flesh have filled our screens on film, TV and in video games in increasing numbers since the early 21st Century. Such gruesome entertainment itself isn’t new, but the level of popularity it currently enjoys certainly is.
One band that has been at the heart of zombie-based entertainment since before it became popular again – and may in some way have helped to make it so – is Cannibal Corpse, a group whose very name infers some kind of flesh-eating undead monster.
“I think it was just it’s time,” says drummer and founding member Paul Mazurkiewicz of the zombie craze. “It was so underground back in the 70s and 80s and no one was watching those movies except teenagers – we were! Zombies were the norm for Cannibal Corpse, but they weren’t the [cultural] norm when we started writing 25 years ago. It’s like Cannibal Corpse and death metal, it was just forming back then and now it’s – well, it’s not mainstream now, but flash forward 30 years or whatever and it’s in the public eye a lot more. It’s not new anymore. It’s been around in people’s faces now for 30 plus years.”
Formed in 1988, next year will mark the 30th year that Cannibal Corpse has been in people’s faces, and attempting to blast them off with some of the most violent death metal ever created. The band’s fourteenth album Red Before Black is quite possibly among the most brutal and raw volumes they have ever released.
“I think this a culmination of [our] last four or five records,” Mazurkiewicz declares. “I think this is a whole different animal. I think there’s more of an old school feel overall than the last couple. There’s elements of those records that make this one have a little bit more of an old school vibe, more raw sounding, there’s more of an edge to it, than what we’ve done.”
“We’ve always tried to do something a little bit different on every album,” the drummer continues. “I think our last four albums have been our most precise in a sense where we’re trying to be the best band we can be, and becoming the best band. Working hard at our musicianship and honing our skills, becoming better songwriters – all those things.”
Whatever their talents as players – and make no mistake, Cannibal Corpse have some devastating musical chops – it has long been the band’s artwork and lyrics that have attracted the attention of fans and detractors alike. Both have seen their albums banned from sale in various markets, including Australia where albums like Gallery of Suicide were sold in plain black CD cases and lyrical content was offered as a reason to stop them touring here. While there can be little doubt that song titles like ‘Stripped, Raped and Strangled’, ‘She Was Asking For It’ and ‘Entrails Ripped From a Virgin’s Cunt’ would be downright offensive to some, there are also plenty with a depraved sense of the ludicrous: ‘Sanded Faceless’, ‘Scalding Hail’ and this album’s chuckle-worthy ‘Heads Shoveled Off’ to name a few.
“We like to have things that are brutal, but at the same time we like to have titles that you can have a laugh at, and that’s the title out of all the titles on the new record that’s the most ridiculous, that’s for sure,” Mazurkiewicz confesses.
“You can’t take it seriously,” he says of the lyrics that he and bassist Alex Webster have been mainly responsible for since the departure of Chris Barnes twenty-two years ago (!!). “It’s brutal death metal about zombies and horrific stories that are outrageous for the most part, so you can’t take it serious. Of course, we don’t sit around laughing while we’re coming up with lyrics. We’re not doing that – we take it seriously, but depending on how you interpret it, there’s going to be some dark humour.”
As Metal Blade’s Brian Slagel recalled in his recent autobiography, Cannibal Corpse were basically offered a contract with the label on the strength of a song title from their self-titled demo. ‘A Skull Full of Maggots’ attracted Slagel’s attention immediately, without even hearing the track. They have remained signed to the label ever since, their association even surviving the strain of the band severing their connection with Barnes just as their fourth album, The Bleeding, and the video for its opening cut ‘Staring Through the Eyes of the Dead’, was about to launch them to the next level. Slagel is open about his disappointment with the decision in his book. For his part, Mazurkiewicz admits that it put stress on the relationship.
“Well when you kick your singer out, and you’ve had a pretty successful run of four albums and we’re on the rise and everything’s looking very positive for the band, and then you kick out your vocalist, your main guy in a sense, it’s a big deal. They were a little upset. He was not happy. Brian and Metal Blade were a little displeased [but] no one was going to stop us making a band decision like that.”
It wasn’t the first tough decision Cannibal Corpse had made – two years previously they had fired guitarist Bob Rusay, who was so embittered by the decision he quit music and has never spoken to any of them again. For Barnes, life went on immediately in Six Feet Under, and despite the initial shock and objection of fans, Cannibal Corpse continued without skipping a beat.
“As soon as Vile came out, there was a sigh of relief from everybody,” the drummer says. “Just the power behind George [Fisher]’s voice, rapid fire vocals and all that kind of stuff. I remember that first tour we did, that was the only tour where there was a bit of heckling, but when that show was over – people were sold.”
The death metal world has been their oyster ever since, with global sales in excess of three million tagging them as one of the most successful underground metal bands still in existence. After almost thirty years, plenty of people now know Cannibal Corpse, but Paul Mazurkiewicz is adamant that sales and recognition is not what is important.
“Well we’re probably getting some recognition just for being around for as long as we’ve been around, but we really don’t care. We play for ourselves and we play for our fans. It’s really that simple. If you’re into this kind of music, there you go, and if you’re not, well, maybe someday you will be.”